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Fred Hutch director: ‘People will die’ under Trump’s proposed budget

Ron and Don with Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutchinson. (KIRO Radio)

The outlook wasn’t good when President Jimmy Carter was diagnosed with cancer. But he  beat the odds.

“President Jimmy Carter had metastatic melanoma to his brain and to his liver,” Dr. Gary Gilliland, president of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don. “And (death) should have been a terminal consequence of his metastatic disease. He was treated with an immunotherapy derived from science that was supported by the NIH. He’s now in complete remission at the age of 90.”

“The potential for treating diseases like melanoma, lung cancer … we have real opportunities,” he said. “We are curing cancer. We need to understand how we can extend that to all patients.”

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But that potential has been threatened, Gilliland said, by President Donald Trump and his proposed budget, which cuts a variety of programs, including the National Institutes of Health. Fred Hutch relies on the NIH for the majority of its funding.

Gilliland said that cutting these funds so dramatically while places like Fred Hutch are on the “cusp of cures, is indefensible. It’s reprehensible.”

“If there is any further cut, it will severely impede our ability to develop curative treatments,” he said. “People will die as a consequence of this — from cancer.”

Fred Hutch and the national budget

President Trump is proposing to cut 20 percent from the NIH budget. That would take it from $31.7 billion to $25.9 billion, Gilliland stated in a letter sent to Fred Hutch supporters. It’s a budget cut that is likely to hit Fred Hutch more than any other facility in the United States. It receives about 85 percent of its financial support from grants provided by the NIH. Fred Hutch receives more grants than any other facility in the country, Gilliland notes.

“If we really care about American lives, if that really matters to us as a country, as an administration, one way you can guarantee we will enhance the quality of life, and increase the number of people that are living, is ensuring we are doing everything we can to cure cancer,” Gilliland said.

To do that, America needs to fund research and work at places like Fred Hutch. Gilliland argues that it is a “misguided effort to decrease the budget for the NIH.”

“There is so much more that we can do, that we need to do, and we are at an inflection point where we can develop curative approaches to cancer,” he said. “I would love for the opportunity to sit down with President Trump and talk about that and help him understand the opportunities that we have with continued support.”

It’s not just the research, Gilliland said. Treatment is a process. Fred Hutch aims to get that treatment to patients as fast as possible. If funding and support goes away, he said, there are consequences.

“The consequence of that is there will be people who die because we don’t get treatments to them soon enough,” Gilliland said.

“Our goal is to not treat cancer. Our goal at Hutch is to cure cancer,” he said. “We have therapies with curative potential. We are on the cusp, we are at an inflection point. We are at a point where we have meteoric rise in our ability to treat and to cure cancers that we can expand on and try to make cancer a thing of the past.”

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